The Toronto Raptors were without Kawhi Leonard and on the road in the second night of a back-to-back. The Washington Wizards did not make things any easier in a heated game that had an intensity carrying over from their first-round playoff series in April.
Here are takeaways from the Raptors’ 117-113 win in Washington:
KYLE LOWRY LOCKED IN
With or without Leonard, it can’t be overstated how impressive Lowry has been to start the season.
He came out of the gates strong, scoring 27 points and hitting five threes (on six attempts) in the Raptors’ debut against Cleveland earlier in the week, and on Friday night came up with big plays down the stretch in Toronto’s impressive win versus Boston.
Lowry turned his game up to eleven on Saturday. He had his fingerprints on both ends of the floor, coming up with huge plays to spark a pair of Raptors’ runs.
You could tell in the first half that Lowry was absolutely locked in. He had a bounce in his step and was knocking down shots while distributing the ball with a purpose. He curled off screens aggressively and found teammates in stride, with OG Anunoby being the chief beneficiary in the second quarter.
On one play, Anunoby caught a deft hand-off from Lowry for an easy lay-in and hit a pair of corner threes courtesy crisp passes through traffic from his star point guard. During that same stretch, Lowry hit a pair of deep threes — he’s been making a mockery of the three-point line all season — to give the Raps a double-digit lead late in the first half.
By the third quarter, he’d already registered 10 of his game-high 12 assists, and when the Wizards mounted a comeback late in the fourth, he seemed to deliver one clutch play after another.
When Washington brought the game within five points, he stepped in front of Bradley Beal and took a charge beneath the basket. He then ended the Wizards’ run with a dramatic three-pointer. A pair of layups later and Lowry had scored 11 straight Raptors points. And it wasn’t just the scoring — with 38 seconds left and the Raps up two points, there was a tip-off at centre court resulting in a scramble to corral the ball. You wouldn’t guess who emerged from the scrum with the ball…
Kyle Lowry has been CLUTCH!
Raptors lead, 111-106. Catch the ending on NBA TV! pic.twitter.com/fTKeN8IVh9
— NBA TV (@NBATV) October 21, 2018
Still, it’s hard to ignore his offensive output through three games. Early as the season is, he’s averaging 23.3 points, 8.7 assists, and four 3-pointers per game while shooting 60 per cent from deep.
How Kyle Lowry would come out of the gates was a major question surrounding the team heading into the season. Yes, you know he’d play hard regardless, but there was a genuine curiosity to see how he’d respond on the court after the team traded away his compatriot DeMar DeRozan and Lowry had limited-to-no communication with the team through the summer afterwards. A terse press conference at media day left more questions than answers. But the early returns are showing he’s been as dynamic and effective as ever.
Like his new co-star, Lowry is simply letting his play do the talking — and the message is loud and clear.
It may lack the big-picture meaning of a Celtics or Sixers game, or the dramatic narrative of a Cavaliers matchup, but are the Wizards actually the Raptors biggest rivals?
When these two teams meet they certainly play like it, and Saturday’s game had an intensity you don’t usually find in game three of the season.
Of course, the rivalry goes back to the 2015 playoff series between the two in which Washington upset Toronto with a first-round sweep. Only Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas remain from that Raptors team, but any lingering bad blood was reinvigorated with last year’s physical first-round series.
If you’re a Raptors fan, the Wizards make good villains in this movie.
John Wall is a brash star who can take over stretches of games; Beal is a notorious Raptor killer — he says he put on 20 pounds of “sympathy weight” this summer, eating a steady diet of pizza and ice cream along with his pregnant wife in a show of solidarity, but showed no ill effects while scoring a game-high 32 points; Otto Porter has sunk the Raptors before and is a continual threat to do it again. There’s even a Morris twin.
And then there’s Kelly Oubre.
After he called out Delon Wright during last year’s series, he became enemy number one for Raptors fans. So far this season he is only growing that reputation around the NBA, too. Just ask Miami Heat fans.
Credit where it’s due, Oubre put on a great villainous performance on Saturday. While matching up with Pascal Siakam late in the fourth — for reasons only Scott Brooks can explain — the two were jawing back and forth. Siakam was especially boisterous after locking up Oubre along the sideline and forcing him to dribble the ball off his foot and out of bounds.
Oubre responded with the dunk-of-the-season, putting Siakam on a poster and delivering an ice cold stare-down for the ages.
Kelly Oubre Jr with a wavy putback slam + staredown combo pic.twitter.com/Tem1zJrCh6
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) October 21, 2018
That play raised the intensity — for both teams — and revitalized the Wizards. It also gave plenty of reasons to stay tuned until the next chapter of this rivalry.
ROTATION WATCH 2018-19
We now return to Rotation Watch 2018-19.
Nick Nurse, as we have learned he is wont to do, shuffled his lineups again on Saturday. Leonard was replaced by Norman Powell while Siakam and Serge Ibaka were swapped out for Anunoby and Valanciunas. The move made sense against a bigger, more physical Wizards frontcourt. Regardless, all of the Raptors’ big men made an impact, scoring a combined 54 points and grabbing 30 boards.
After struggling on the glass on Friday, the Raps outrebounded Washington 52-37 on Saturday.
To start the second half, Nurse elected for more spacing and replaced Powell with C.J. Miles, who shot just 3-7 from the floor but played with a ton of energy. Fred VanVleet had another strong second half, and put the game on ice with a clutch basket and free throws in the dying seconds, part of his 13 points on the night. In summation: this team is deep.
We’ll see what the rotations look like on Monday in Toronto versus Charlotte, when Leonard is expected to return.